A Quick Roundup of 7 New San Diego Breweries
From Chula Vista to San Marcos—new breweries are popping up all over the county
Circle 9 Brewing | Photos by Nate Glassman-Hughes
Want the official count of how many breweries we have in San Diego? Well, it’s almost like you have to check a daily tote board to stay up to date. As of the writing of this article, the official count is at 156, with another dozen or so breweries in various stages of planning and completion.
The new guys are popping up all over: The ones included here represent San Marcos, Kearney Mesa, Ramona, two downtown, and two in Chula Vista. Upcoming coverage will include new breweries in Vista, La Mesa, Oceanside, and Bay Park, to name just a few locations.
The variety of breweries and the sheer number of options available can be overwhelming, so I strongly recommend taking advantage of the San Diego Brewery Guide. With that tool, you can search your options by neighborhood, beer styles, or other variables that may matter most to you. In the meantime, here’s a quick rundown of the newest places in town that have joined the SD brewing fray.
Circle 9 Brewing
In August of 2017, when Circle 9 opened its doors, Kearney/Clairemont Mesa got a new addition to its already growing brewery scene, which included Societe, Council, Kilowatt, and Quantum.
Tucked back in a commercial neighborhood just blocks away from O’Brien’s Pub, the small and intimate tasting room is simply done, with limited space that would make it a challenge to be there with small children or large groups.
The brewery’s initial lineup includes fairly common and straightforward styles, including a few versions of IPA, a lager, and a stout. The Argent IPA, with its pleasing aromas of pine and honey, had a nice mouthfeel and was well balanced with a slightly bitter finish.
Three Punk Ales
Before they moved into their new space on a main drag in downtown Chula Vista, the folks at Three Punk had been brewing in Santee for a few years on the Finest Made Ales equipment. By the time they set up their own brewhouse, they had already dialed in many of the recipes they wanted to brew.
Their Third Street tasting room is light and spacious, with a nice-size bar, a few large tables, and some tasting ledges that open to the street. The décor is fun and casual, with bold graphics that depict the rowdy bygone era of the 1980s punk scene.
The Three Punk lineup includes a nice variety of styles, including a number of lesser-done beers that offer patrons a refreshing break from the onslaught of IPAs and stouts. A very tasty Mexican Lager and a rich, malty Oktoberfest were among the highlights on tap, but the Brick Top English Brown stood out for its big, fresh coffee aromas and its delicious coffee/milk chocolate/caramel notes.
Chula Vista Brewing Co.
Just down Third Street from Three Punk is another of Chula Vista’s newest breweries. Opened in May of 2017, Chula Vista Brewery helped to establish this area of downtown as a potential hub for breweries and tasting rooms (Groundswell has planned to set up shop just a few doors away as well).
This group-friendly, casual space is light and open and offers plenty of seating. A small stage, used for a variety of regular live events, occupies the middle of the tasting room, along with a collection of communal tables and open-air tasting counters.
The beer offerings are straightforward, classic styles and are generally fine, with a solid blonde ale and a full-flavored coffee porter being of particular note. The Beautiful View American Pale Ale was a favorite for its fresh pine and citrus aromas, its medium body, and its especially satisfying mouthfeel.
Alta Brewing Company
Tucked away in an unassuming residential neighborhood of Barrio Logan, this brewery and tasting room feels very much a part of the community. Even though the buzz of traffic from Interstate 5 can be heard from the patio, the vibe here is relaxed and intimate.
A small, simple tasting room, accented with Mexican-inspired artwork and decor, opens to a narrow patio that overlooks a parking lot. The bar is small, but there’s a decent amount of space at the various open-air counters that line the main room.
Brewer Brett Stampf, formerly of La Jolla Brewing Company, offers another standard tap lineup here, which includes a collection of common styles, such as pale ale, IPA, brown ale, and stout.
Smoking Cannon Brewery
Well, Ramona’s brewery population has just doubled! With the addition of Smoking Cannon, right off Main Street, downtown Ramona now has two working breweries.
Smoking Cannon’s substantial charm lies in the fact that everything about the place—the concept, the tasting room, the beer lineup—reflects the passion and engaging hospitality of owners Natalie Phillips and Mike Nelson. The space has a distinctly handcrafted feel to it— one that invites patrons to relax and chat with Natalie as well as with other visitors. The Civil War theme and historical décor add unique interest, and the long, communal tables that dominate the tasting space facilitate social interaction and make this brewery especially fun to visit.
Mike brews a nice variety of styles (each beer is named after a specific type of Civil War cannon), many of which are clean, simple, and straightforward. A few of his more offbeat styles, such as his Blakeley Chili Ale, Phoenix Vanilla Cream, and Paxton Smoked Peanut Butter Ale, are notable for their creativity, balance, and restraint. Also on offer are Natalie’s homemade sodas and cold brew coffee, which you can have straight up or mixed into one of her many beer/soda combos (her ginger beer mixed with the session IPA is particularly tasty).
10 Barrel Brewing
This is the most controversial brewery ever to open in San Diego. Why? Because it’s not independently owned by San Diegans; it’s owned by AB InBev (Anheuser-Busch). Of course, there’s nothing inherently wrong with being owned by a large corporation, but the arrival of 10 Barrel caused many local independent brewers to protest what they saw as an appropriation of the “San Diego Craft Brand” by outsiders who were not a true part of the San Diego craft community. Does this matter? Only if you’re a consumer who feels strongly about supporting local and independent brewing concerns.
Regardless of who owns it, the huge 10 Barrel location is spacious, inviting, and beautifully designed. All in all, the tasting room and brewhouse occupy about 9,000 square feet, broken into a cavernous downstairs and a sunny, open-air upstairs bi-level patio that overlooks the developing Maker’s Quarter neighborhood below.
An ambitious variety of more than 20 beers are on tap, including numerous offbeat styles and hybrids (some of the beers are brought down in kegs from 10 Barrel in Bend, Oregon). The lighter beers and hoppy selections were, for the most part, unremarkable (Joe IPA was the standout), but the “Wild Card” creations, such as the quad-like King at War Stock Ale and Clodhopper Harvest Ale (a nicely balanced ESB-style hopped with local Star B Ranch hops) were memorable for their impressive flavors.
Wild Barrel Brewing
Since Stone Brewing Co. trimmed its workforce a while back, lots of Stone alums have been popping up in new projects around town. Among the most recent Stone veterans to re-emerge onto the scene are Bill Sysak and Bill Sobieski. The two Bills are half of the foursome that started Wild Barrel Brewing (the other two being Chris White [not the one from White Labs] and Preston Wesner).
The Wild Barrel tasting space feels spacious and large-scale, just like the giant barrel they’ve outfitted in the room’s center (very cool!). Obviously, these are not guys who like to think small. A wide, long bar offers plenty of room to hang out near the taps, and a collection of tables and ledges throughout the rest of the space offer lots of options, both communal and private. Eventually, a large section of the room will house dozens and dozens of barrels.
Brewer Bill Sobieski is an experienced pro who knows his stuff, and the initial lineup of beers proves that point well. All seven of his opening beers were excellent, each offering generous and enticing aromas and very satisfying flavors (and the colors are beautiful, too!). The hoppy beers on offer—a Citra IPA and an Imperial IPA called Prince of Dankness—both exploded with fresh hop aromas and both had great balance and mouthfeel. The milk stout—Hipster Latte—was packed with bold coffee, chocolate, and caramel aromas and flavors, but remained light, balanced, and mostly dry on the finish. As good as those beers were, the selection of Berliner Weisses, in my opinion, stole the show. Collectively part of their “San Diego Vice” series, the three I tasted were done with guava, Montmorency cherries, and black currant. Bursting with fresh fruit aromas, mildly tart, and jammed with flavor, these beers truly stand out as some of the best weisses in San Diego.